Interview: The Christian Lopez Band Pay Tribute to West Virginia Roots, Old-Time Country on ‘Onward’
Christian Lopez is an old soul -- as his press bio describes him, "a 20-year-old with the soul of a 65-year-old Appalachian mountain musician hidden away inside." He refers to people his age as "those kids" and waxes poetic about his old-time country/folk/bluegrass influences, and when you speak with him, it's easy to forget that he can't yet legally drink in the U.S.
Lopez's fascination with traditional sounds and old-school influences are a direct result of his upbringing in -- and his love of -- Martinsburg, W.V., in the mountainous state's Eastern Panhandle. Despite the fact that his music brings him to Nashville quite often now, the singer-songwriter confesses to being "a small-town kind of guy" -- "Cities have always been a 'come-and-go' sort of thing for me," he adds -- and still lives in his home state.
"When you're born and raised, you have that automatic attachment, but we just have so many beautiful things in West Virginia. We have so much history, and the people there are so good, and so welcoming and warm ...," Lopez tells The Boot. "The beauty and the love and the unbelievable features of the state, but also the peaceful, sedate, welcoming people who live there -- that's what makes it home, for sure."
Lopez's band began as a collection of West Virginia natives, "but it was one of those bands where we grew up together as little kids, and as we got older, people started to go their own ways," he recalls. Now, his bassist, Mark Shottinger, is from Washington, D.C., and his drummer, Pete Teselsky, is from Nashville, but banjo player and vocalist Chelsea McBee grew up in Shepherdstown, W.V.
"The music I was surrounded with from Day One has been folk [and] old, old country -- just really heartfelt and passionate country music -- and I just grew to fall in love with it," Lopez explains, "and when I started writing songs, that's the way it went, that's the way it felt most natural."
For both their debut full-length project, Onward, and their debut EP, Pilot, the Christian Lopez Band worked with producer Dave Cobb, whose more traditional production methods lend themselves to Lopez's songs, and vice versa.
"Working with him was a very interesting experience. He records as if you were making a record in the '70s," Lopez says, noting Cobb's penchant for untouched vocals and recording the band all together. "... But I wouldn't have wanted it any other way. It really brings out the songs and keeps it very genuine."
The 11 tracks on Onward are pulled from various phases of Lopez's life: Some are relatively new, while "The Man I Was Before" and "Morning Rise" are a few years old, and "Will I See You Again" was written when he was 15.
"It was a song that I worked on right after my first real relationship," Lopez reflects, adding that Cobb helped him "dissect" the tune before they recorded it.
"I think if it comes out of an honest experience and you write about it that way, then it will stay relevant to you ... almost like a page in a diary," Lopez muses when asked about recording a song written five years ago, by his teenage self. "As long as [the songs] stay real, they stay relevant."
"Will I See You Again" isn't the oldest song on Onward, however: That distinction belongs to "Oh, Those Tombs," a public domain gospel song previously recorded by Hank Williams and the Stanley Brothers. Lopez and his band have been performing the tune live, and they included it on the record because it was an opportunity to showcase both their harmonies and Cobb's "old-school country expertise."
"I just wanted something that was one of those old country songs that was easy but so good," Lopez notes.
The Christian Lopez Band have tour dates scheduled through late December (a complete list is available on their website), and once the new year hits, they'll be on the road, but also planning for their next album, which Lopez says he is "extremely excited" about.
"I think things are going to get even better and start to get a little crazier," he continues, "so we're having a good time."